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5E Should D&D 5e have Epic Levels?

Should D&D 5e have Epic Levels?


  • Total voters
    120

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Check the CR 9-11 creatures. They all have well over 100 hp and can make 2-3 attacks. Mooks with several attacks and 100+ hp? A bookkeeping nightmare.

I’ve run a game at tier 4. It’s a mess. The saving throw issue is real, and it’s awful to have a player taken out for several rounds by a stun or incapacitate because they have a 0-10% chance of success. Massive hp pools everywhere, just bags of hp since that becomes the main defense as opposed to AC.

I can do epic boons, or not advancing numbers. But then how is that different from what we already have?
I have also run and played in games at those levels, and experienced no particular problems (or at least, no more than at other tiers, Bc CR is a crapshoot in 5e at literally every level).

You might note, before I continue, that I already said earlier that I voted “no”.

However, I do support a 10-level Epic Destiny set of features that can be chosen when “epic” is turned on, whether that is at level 1, 11, 3, 17, or 20, and that can also be spread out to every other level starting at level 1. An ED would be features similar to boons and such, but organized to fit an epic theme and concept without a DM having to figure out each ability by hand every time.

Post 20, it wouldn’t increase basic numbers, because then you have to adjust many many monsters CR and texts.
 

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wingsandsword

Adventurer
Okay, so this thread is based around one question: Should D&D 5e have Epic Levels?

So, have at it. Answer the poll, and please comment down below with your thoughts on this topic.

If you believe so, should they just be normal class progression, but at higher levels? If yes, too what level? 30? 40? If not, should it be like Prestige Classes, or just multiclassing?

If you answered no, please say why. Is it because of epic spellcasting? Is it because most campaigns don't reach high levels? Or, do you just not care about this enough to want it?

If you're undecided, please say why.

I have been homebrewing a class system up to level 30, and would like to get some information from the community of how you feel on this topic.
Epic levels are an intrinsic part of D&D.

1e had modules going up to 100th level (Throne of Bloodstone). A few classes only went into the teens (Monks, Assassins, Druids), but otherwise characters could go arbitrarily high.

2e eliminated the arbitrary limits, and let all classes go to at least 20th level. It had the first dedicated high-level books for D&D in Dragon Kings and High Level Campaigns, which posited the idea that mortal progression stops at 30th level, and between 20th and 30th level characters start to become very powerful if not outright transformational into quasi-divine entities.

3e had the same mentality as 2e, with this regard, that the core rules would go to 20, but you could go higher if you wanted, and they got rid of the arbirary cap at 30.

4e put rules for up to 30th level right in the core rules

5e introduces the idea that progression stops at 20. . .and that 21+ level characters are apparently badwrongfun. . .and of course people rush to defend it.
 


Epic levels are an intrinsic part of D&D.
Survey says: nope. If D&D beyond is any kind of gauge (and why wouldn't it be) then only 10% of games are even extending above 10th. HALF of the classic 20 level progression is already UNUSED. It has ALWAYS been that way. Past surveys even back into 1E/2E era place the most popular levels of play BELOW 10th and in fact generally peak at about 7th. ALWAYS have. Unless there's some ENORMOUS and bizzarely silent majority who are doing/wanting a lot of high level and beyond kinds of gaming then it makes no sense. In fact, it makes more sense to me to all but abandon content and concern for gameplay above 10th level.
 

I'm going to go out on a limb, and say... honestly, it sounds to me like the level and style of play desired here really requires a different ruleset - the mechanics of 5e were not built for it, and are not well-suited to it... and if you tried to include it in the design from the beginning, the play experience of levels 1-20 would have suffered.

No ruleset does everything well - they all have their limits of power and genre in which they work well, outside of which they work less well (to downright poorly).
I don't quite agree that 1-20 inherently has to "suffer" for having epic play if designed in from the start, but it would probably be different, like with some monsters and enemies aimed at higher or epic levels, for example. I think 5E actually suffers slightly for trying to cram some epic stuff into 18-20.

Agree that not every system does everything well, but think its reasonable to hope for D&D to do post-20 well, as it has done in multiple editions, particularly BX/RC and 4E (4E had some problems post 11 or so but they didn't get any worse past 20 - arguably they got a little better).

Yeah. 5e can do a ranger just fine. It just can do one single class that encompasses everyone's preferred ranger.
I think it could have got a lot closer than it did (as shown by later takes). Certainly not every vision would have fit into the PHB though because there are more than three popular visions of the Ranger. That said, if you had a solid Hunter, Beastmaster and Monster Specialist/quasi-Witcher Ranger you'd have been pretty good.
 
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dave2008

Legend
It works, but it's also a mess.
Not IME, but we are only lvl 15. We did do a couple 20th lvl one shot adventures and they went quite well, but it has been about 4+ years so my memory is a bit foggy.
CR? A huge gamble.
I never use CR. We didn't have it in 1e and I don't need it in 5e. I just design the encounter that makes sense. It is the players job to figure out how to deal with it.
How do you challenge players?
Not really something I have had to worry about. I've always been able to challenge my players. Not sure how to help you there, it seems easy to me (but my players are not power gamers / optimizers).
It's so swingy and hit-and-miss. Huge hp pools, low ACs. Everyone hitting all the time since hp are the main defensive attribute. Oh, and non-proficient saves against action-denial effects... 0%-5% chance of success.
OK, it that is your problem simply buff ACs and saves. I have a hard time believing you couldn't solve that one.

Go epic and save DCs go even higher, which means your non-proficient saves auto-fail. Attacks hit 95% of the time.
As noted above, it is pretty easy to buff saves and ACs. Heck, I feel this really should have been included in the DMG. Something like: "Increase monster ACs and saves by 1 per tier" (epic being tier 5 & 6 if it is 10 more levels). So all epic monsters would get a +5 or 6 to every save and AC. So now your ancient red dragon has an AC 28. That works well enough.
Are spellcasters going to be pulling off three 9th-level spells per day? How many 8th-level spells?
I don't know, but based on the trend in the PHB, I could see two 8th lvl spells at 22, two 9th lvl spells at 25, and one 10th lvl spell at 30. That seems fine to me. Still less spells than 3e I believe.
How do you use CR 10ish creatures as mooks when they have enormous hp pools for "minions" and may possess innate spellcasting or other complex mechanics.
There a lots of ways you can do it. Personally I use a version of the swarm rules to create hordes or regiments of monsters. However, it is worth noting that at lvl 20 PCs can already deal more than 100DPR, so even CR 10ish monsters are going to be pretty mooky without any changes.

It'd be a bookkeeping nightmare.
Could be, but it doesn't have to be. Also, just because you can't or don't want to handle the added complexity of epic level battles isn't a good reason to deny those you can or want to. Not every type of game is for everyone.
 

GreyLord

Adventurer
I've done epic play in 5e using the rules provided, and it worked pretty good...so I'm undecided.

If you had asked me when 5e came out, I'd have been absolutely onboard with epic levels.

Now, I don't know. It could be fun, but playing with the epic boons and an occasional supernatural gift is an absolute blast.
 

Teemu

Adventurer
Not IME, but we are only lvl 15. We did do a couple 20th lvl one shot adventures and they went quite well, but it has been about 4+ years so my memory is a bit foggy.
I never use CR. We didn't have it in 1e and I don't need it in 5e. I just design the encounter that makes sense. It is the players job to figure out how to deal with it.
Not really something I have had to worry about. I've always been able to challenge my players. Not sure how to help you there, it seems easy to me (but my players are not power gamers / optimizers).
OK, it that is your problem simply buff ACs and saves. I have a hard time believing you couldn't solve that one.

As noted above, it is pretty easy to buff saves and ACs. Heck, I feel this really should have been included in the DMG. Something like: "Increase monster ACs and saves by 1 per tier" (epic being tier 5 & 6 if it is 10 more levels). So all epic monsters would get a +5 or 6 to every save and AC. So now your ancient red dragon has an AC 28. That works well enough.
I don't know, but based on the trend in the PHB, I could see two 8th lvl spells at 22, two 9th lvl spells at 25, and one 10th lvl spell at 30. That seems fine to me. Still less spells than 3e I believe.
There a lots of ways you can do it. Personally I use a version of the swarm rules to create hordes or regiments of monsters. However, it is worth noting that at lvl 20 PCs can already deal more than 100DPR, so even CR 10ish monsters are going to be pretty mooky without any changes.

Could be, but it doesn't have to be. Also, just because you can't or don't want to handle the added complexity of epic level battles isn't a good reason to deny those you can or want to. Not every type of game is for everyone.
Level 15 is still tier 3 though. It's not quite as crazy as levels 17+. The issue with challenging players is that it's tough to create challenges that are "tough but fun". The CR rules work okay at lower levels but rapidly break down at higher levels. If you go even further beyond into levels 21+, things just get even more difficult.

I'm not just talking about monster ACs and saves. I'm talking about player saves. If you have to start changing the system so that it works, how do you imagine WotC publishing epic levels when they're already so reluctant to make changes to the published rules? It just sounds like a huge hassle.

Also, what's an "epic monster"? CR 30 tarrasque is a fine challenge for level 18 PCs. What's the CR 40 creature?

The problem with CR 10ish "mooks" is that you have to resolve more actions, since they do more attacks. They can also have spells that you have to keep track of. It's much more complex to run six stone golems or young red dragons than it is to run six goblins. But if you go epic, you're supposed to use these CR 10+ creatures as the supporting cast, in the way you use CR 1/2 creatures at level 10. Or is WotC going to publish swarm versions of stone golems and young red dragons? I don't see it happening.
 


dave2008

Legend
Level 15 is still tier 3 though. It's not quite as crazy as levels 17+. The issue with challenging players is that it's tough to create challenges that are "tough but fun". The CR rules work okay at lower levels but rapidly break down at higher levels. If you go even further beyond into levels 21+, things just get even more difficult.
Not an issue for me as I don't use CR. I don't have a problem making challenging encounters at 15th level or when we played at 20th level. But I don't have extensive experience at high levels.

I'm not just talking about monster ACs and saves. I'm talking about player saves. If you have to start changing the system so that it works, how do you imagine WotC publishing epic levels when they're already so reluctant to make changes to the published rules? It just sounds like a huge hassle.
The only issue on the player side, IMO, is the non-proficient saves. And that is easy to solve with an "epic" PC rule: At 21st level and above players add half their proficiency bonus to all saving throws, or something similar.

PS: I've already stated I don't want them too or expect them too publish epic levels.

Also, what's an "epic monster"? CR 30 tarrasque is a fine challenge for level 18 PCs. What's the CR 40 creature?
Sure, that is always an issue with epic play - what do you fight. There are many ways to handle it that would have to be addressed in any "Epic Level Handbook," but Mythic Monsters from Theros are a good template to make existing monsters more challenging. I've even started a thread for that (check out Mythic Tiamat): 5e Mythic Monster Updates

The problem with CR 10ish "mooks" is that you have to resolve more actions, since they do more attacks. They can also have spells that you have to keep track of. It's much more complex to run six stone golems or young red dragons than it is to run six goblins. But if you go epic, you're supposed to use these CR 10+ creatures as the supporting cast, in the way you use CR 1/2 creatures at level 10. Or is WotC going to publish swarm versions of stone golems and young red dragons? I don't see it happening.
As I stated above, I don't see WotC doing an epic guide. However, if one plays epic games the assumption should be they are going to be a bit more difficult to DM than standard games. That should just be expected IMO. Additionally, I do think printing swarms and hordes would be a good option, it is what I plan to do. I've already made a decent template: 5e Hardcore Monster Manual: Fiends , check out the Vargouille Swarm (CR 20), Imp Swarm (CR 21), and Lemure Horde (CR 9) for the concept. It would be fairly easy to make a mob of giants or similar.
 
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doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
5e introduces the idea that progression stops at 20. . .and that 21+ level characters are apparently badwrongfun. . .and of course people rush to defend it.
Well, no. They decided that post-20 play didn’t need class levels, and should instead be handled by individual abilities and features that the DM can give as a reward for play, rather than messing around with XP and the idea of being an “epic rogue”.
 

Parmandur

Legend
Survey says: nope. If D&D beyond is any kind of gauge (and why wouldn't it be) then only 10% of games are even extending above 10th. HALF of the classic 20 level progression is already UNUSED. It has ALWAYS been that way. Past surveys even back into 1E/2E era place the most popular levels of play BELOW 10th and in fact generally peak at about 7th. ALWAYS have. Unless there's some ENORMOUS and bizzarely silent majority who are doing/wanting a lot of high level and beyond kinds of gaming then it makes no sense. In fact, it makes more sense to me to all but abandon content and concern for gameplay above 10th level.
Yeah, this is pretty much exactly right: that's why the epic climaxes to most WotC products are squarely Tier 2 or 3, with one single exception.
 

wingsandsword

Adventurer
Well, no. They decided that post-20 play didn’t need class levels, and should instead be handled by individual abilities and features that the DM can give as a reward for play, rather than messing around with XP and the idea of being an “epic rogue”.
They decided that being a 21st level character is badwrongfun and instead to go with some wishy-washy freeform "epic boons" nonsense of being a 20th level character with some extra stuff piled on.

5e has some nice things about it. . .but the total and glaring lack of epic levels and psionics, and this bizarre attitude that if something isn't used by a majority of the players it shouldn't even be published is certainly it's worst part.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
They decided that being a 21st level character is badwrongfun and instead to go with some wishy-washy freeform "epic boons" nonsense of being a 20th level character with some extra stuff piled on.

5e has some nice things about it. . .but the total and glaring lack of epic levels and psionics, and this bizarre attitude that if something isn't used by a majority of the players it shouldn't even be published is certainly it's worst part.
You’re bringing melodrama to a practical matter of execution.

Epic play doesn’t need the basic numbers to go up. Instead, you fight Orcus and contend with gods after reaching level 20 by gaining booms and supernatural gifts. That’s it. It’s literally the same thematic thing, executed with different mechanics. There’s nothing “glaring” about the lack of epic levels. Epic gameplay is still very much in the books.
 

dave2008

Legend
They decided that being a 21st level character is badwrongfun and instead to go with some wishy-washy freeform "epic boons" nonsense of being a 20th level character with some extra stuff piled on.
No they didn't. They decided that it was not profitable at this time to make 10 more levels of play. And I am personally thrilled with the alternate progression systems they have provided for in DMG. And based on the comments in this thread I am not the only one. I much prefer the DMG approach to epic play than more of the same (10 more levels).
5e has some nice things about it. . .but the total and glaring lack of epic levels and psionics, and this bizarre attitude that if something isn't used by a majority of the players it shouldn't even be published is certainly it's worst part.
 

Matrix Sorcica

Adventurer
No they didn't. They decided that it was not profitable at this time to make 10 more levels of play. And I am personally thrilled with the alternate progression systems they have provided for in DMG. And based on the comments in this thread I am not the only one. I much prefer the DMG approach to epic play than more of the same (10 more levels).
Agreed. And I look forward to your take on epic boons.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
No they didn't. They decided that it was not profitable at this time to make 10 more levels of play. And I am personally thrilled with the alternate progression systems they have provided for in DMG. And based on the comments in this thread I am not the only one. I much prefer the DMG approach to epic play than more of the same (10 more levels).
I mostly agree. I want to expand on the DMG options for epic gameplay with the option of more codified feature sets, but I like the basic system.
 


dave2008

Legend
Agreed. And I look forward to your take on epic boons.
Well, I'm not currently expanding the epic boon system. That was my initial approach, but I left that behind a few years ago. I may bring it back for simplified "epic" play, but for right now I am working on rules for playing Immortals. More like the "I" in BECMI.
 

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